Naomi Watts returns as journalist Rachel Keller, now relocated to a small northwestern town where she hopes to raise her son Aidan (David Dorfman) in peace. But Samara (Kelly Stables, stepping in for Daveigh Chase) -- the stringy-haired ghost girl who just won't go away -- somehow finds them, wreaking all manner of spooky havoc before it becomes clear that she's hatching a new plan: to take physical possession of Aidan and forever claim Rachel as her loving mommy.
In a way, it's more "Exorcist" than "The Ring," but that ends up being for the better. Lacking the meticulously plotted intrigue of the first film as well as its crucial "newness," Nakata falls back on more visceral tactics -- an escalating assortment of creepy set pieces that don't really hang together or make much narrative sense, but which still deliver the thrills, chills and nightmare-inducing imagery the audience is clearly expecting. It's a smart tradeoff that aims to please the franchise's core fans at the expense of glowing reviews, all but guaranteeing a (literal) third trip to the well (though it's unlikely it will continue to following the course of the Japanese series which concluded with the less well-received 2000 prequel "Ringu 0").
Like its predecessor, "The Ring 2" is rated PG-13, and just as inexplicably. This will again do wonders for DreamWorks' bottom line, but it should also further erode confidence in the ratings system which would slap an R on a film like "The City of Lost Children" for "disturbing and grotesque images of violence and menace" while finding nothing comparable in either "The Ring" or its sequel. Notwithstanding the inconsistency of the ratings board, "The Ring 2" offers nothing of a thematic nature to which parents might conceivably object -- if anything, it's adults rather than their children who'll be most spooked by the idea of a child possessed by another child. Critics, meanwhile, will simply be spooked by the perpetuation of a series whose appeal they can't seem to understand. Starring Naomi Watts, Simon Baker, David Dorfman, Elizabeth Perkins, Gary Cole, Sissy Spacek, Ryan Merriman and Kelly Stables. Directed by Hideo Nakata. Written by Ehren Kruger. Produced by Laurie MacDonald and Walter F. Parkes. A DreamWorks release. Horror. Rated PG-13 for violence/terror, disturbing images, thematic elements and some language. Running time: 111 min